Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
The first stop on the next stage of our road trip was a small town just outside Oklahoma City, called El Reno. It was here that we started to see the ‘Historic Route 66’ road signs which made it feel even more real that we were finally back on the mother road again! After a brief stop at the post office in El Reno and some photos of the road signs, we set off for another small town called Clinton. Here we visited a Route 66 Museum to get us in the mood – and it worked! The museum was great – it was fairly small but we spent at least an hour wandering around. They had loads of stuff on show – vintage road signs, old cars, retro gas pumps, and even a room done out like a classic American diner! It was a lot of fun to look around and gave us loads of information about the historic Route 66.
Afterwards, we hit the road again and decided to stay off the highway and drive on some of the original route. The historic Route 66 often runs parallel to the new highways but it’s so much quieter and a lot more fun. American highways are very straight and quite boring roads, whereas the historic route had twists and turns and not another car in sight! I decided to finally try some of the driving as Greg had done it all up until this point. I’d been too nervous to drive in the busy areas, with never having driven on the right side of the road before or in an automatic car! But here where the roads were deserted I gave it a go, knowing that if I hated it then we could just stop and swap over again without being in the way of anyone! At first it was really weird – I kept going to put my foot on the clutch and change gear only to find there was no pedal there which was hard to get my head around! Once I’d got going though it was really fun – it actually felt like a dream come true! For so many years I had imagined driving down a long, empty American road, ready for adventure and having the time of my life…and I was actually doing it! One piece of advice I have for anybody is that if you have a dream, make it happen. There’s no such thing as “I can’t afford it” or “I don’t have time” – you have to make time if it’s really something that you want. Don’t ever let work get in the way of your dreams or you’ll regret it later on!
So anyway, on our fun drive along historic Route 66 we stopped off in yet another small, very quiet town (so quiet we wondered if it was actually a ghost town) where the first Phillips 66 gas station still stands. It has been abandoned for many years now but is a great reminder of how things used to be. Once upon a time that small town would have been a bustling community with travellers passing through every single day. It’s quite sad that a lot of places like this lost out once the highways were built, and many places have long been forgotten, but it’s true that the highways make travelling a lot quicker and easier.
Our next and final destination for the day was Amarillo – and yes we did play the song in the car! After many questions of “Is this the way to Amarillo?” we finally found the right way and arrived at our fist campsite of the holiday. We stopped at KOA Amarillo and it was great! There was a section for motorhomes and RV’s and a separate section for tents which was good, and there were only 2 other tents there that night so it was quite peaceful! We set up our new tent (that we bought from Walmart along with pretty much everything else we were carrying) and headed to the on-site shop for some food. When we discovered they sold coal, lighter fluid and sausages we decided to do a good old BBQ for tea, and sat in the sun drinking wine from our camping mugs. Apart from the minor incident where I cut half my finger off (don’t ask) it was a lovely evening. The sun was out and it was still about 30 degrees in the evening, the food had been good, the wine was amazing, and the campsite was so quiet – it was like a dream!
However, the next morning we both woke after one of the worst nights sleep either of us have ever had. The weather took a turn for the worst overnight and although we didn’t have any rain, the wind was unbelievable! I swear there must have been a small tornado going on because it actually felt like the tent might take off with us inside it! We spent most of the night staying awake trying to stop the tent from collapsing and we also discovered that there was a train track nearby and the trains in the night would blow their horns as they went past – probably to annoy all the campers!
After a very sleepy start the next morning we packed up and moved on yet again, this time heading for Santa Fe. On the way we passed through the centre of Amarillo to the Historic Route 66 shopping district - it was a very weird street full of what seemed to be abandoned shops that must once have been popular gift shops and cafes when Route 66 was in its prime. Just outside Amarillo we made another stop at the famous Cadillac Ranch – an area of desert with 10 classic Cadillacs sticking out of the ground. Over the years people have graffitied on the cars to create a stunning piece of art. It’s hard to imagine that these were once real cars on the roads! Something exciting also happened at the Cadillac ranch – we saw our first tumbleweed! It doesn’t sound exciting but it was one of those things you always see in films and wonder how often it really happens, so we were very excited to see a huge ball of tumbleweed flying towards us across the desert!
A bit further along we stopped again at a town called Adrian (where we saw another tumbleweed). This town marks the official halfway point of Route 66, with a marker painted on the road and a sign up for taking photos with. I expected it to be quite busy but there were only 2 other people there when we stopped so we pretty much had the place to ourselves! Just down the street from the halfway marker is another abandoned gas station and an old diner called the Bent Door. They were really interesting to look around (you couldn’t get inside the diner though) and it was fun trying to imagine them in their heyday.
Afterwards we carried on a bit longer then stopped just outside Santa Rosa for something to eat. We also visited a classic car museum which was fun! It was a very small museum but with loads of interesting things to see. It was really just one big room crammed with classic cars, from Cadillacs to Mustangs and everything in between! I’m not a massive car fan myself but even I had a good time (Greg was running around like a child in a sweet shop so I think he enjoyed it too). After finally dragging him away from the cars, it was then back on the road for the final leg of our journey that day.
When we crossed over from Texas to New Mexico the landscape was just amazing! Texas had been very flat and open with barren, dusty landscapes surrounding the roads. However, in New Mexico the mountains towered above us and the roads headed straight through the valleys. After a gorgeous drive we arrived at another KOA campsite. This one was set out a bit differently to the one in Amarillo – instead of an open grass pitch we had a small gravel area to pitch our tent, surrounded by trees so we felt very secluded. Once again we set up and then went to explore. The town of Santa Fe is beautiful. A lot of the buildings are traditional stone houses with rounded windows – they reminded me of the houses in the Flintstones! We had a lovely evening wandering around, taking in the gorgeous architecture and the fun Mexican vibe of the place. It’s somewhere I’d definitely recommend!
The next day we set off in the direction of Albuquerque – I mainly know about this place because it’s where Breaking Bad was set! We didn’t really have any specific plans and were mainly planning on just passing through, but we decided to Google some things to do in the area and discovered a few fun places to stop. The first was Sandia Peak Tramway – a cable car that takes you up to the top of the mountain called Sandia Peak. We went up to the top with stunning views over Albuquerque on the way up, and spent quite a while up on the summit. Despite the blue skies and sunshine it was pretty cold at the top with un-melted patches of snow lying around. The wind also picked up to the point where we were advised to catch the next cable car back down otherwise we’d be stuck there as they were closing the line due to strong winds! Once back on the ground again we had a lovely picnic in Albuquerque then headed to the Petroglyph Monument to do an afternoon hike in the sun.
The Petroglyph National Monument is an area of land with ancient drawings (petroglyphs) dotted around the rocks. There are various trails you can walk on to view the petroglyphs and we chose the trail through Rinconada Canyon. It was deserted (like most places we seemed to be visiting) and at first we were enjoying the walk along the sand taking in the beautiful landscape. After a while we realised we still hadn’t seen any of the rock drawings and after inspecting every rock we came across and still not finding anything, we began to think it was a load of rubbish. Finally, after what felt like forever, we spotted our first petroglyph and after that we started to see loads of them. Some of them looked like children’s drawings of people and animals, but some of them looked like traditional cave paintings you might read about in history books. Either way, it was quite interesting and it made a nice walk that looped around the canyon. It was on this hike that I also spotted my first (and only) rattlesnake! It slithered out onto the path in front of me but it was so quick I had no time to take a photo which I was gutted about!
After a long day we finally headed on to our stop for the night – a small motel in the town of Gallup. We chose to stop in Gallup to break up the journey to Monument Valley the next day. Now, the less said about this place the better. Yes we did only pay $43 for our motel room that night but it was one of the worst places I have ever stayed. Not only did we not feel safe in the room, it wasn’t even clean which made it ten times worse. As soon as we checked in I needed to get out of the room because it was so horrible so we went for a walk into town – if you can even call it a town? There was nothing really there – the busiest and most exciting place was the launderette which says a lot about the kind of place Gallup is. We did however find a Pizza Hut but even that was rubbish – not like the ones in the UK. So unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy Gallup and it’s safe to say we’ll never be going back there again!
Although we didn’t have a great night, Gallup did serve its purpose of being a good place to break up our journey to Monument Valley. So the next day we set off bright and early back into the desert, where I had another go at driving and loved it! The landscape heading into Utah is stunning – wide open deserts with huge red rock formations rising up from the horizons. After one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on we finally arrived in Monument Valley. I’d been looking forward to visiting this place for ages, as it was actually a photo of Monument Valley that inspired me to start planning a trip to the USA! After a brief stop at the visitor centre (where we saw a really cute roadrunner!) we headed off to do the self-drive tour of the valley. There were signs everywhere saying the road wasn’t suitable for cars and you need to have a 4x4 to go down it, but everyone else seemed to be managing in cars so we gave it a go. The first part of the road was very rocky and had to be taken really slowly but once you were down into the valley it was just a sandy road which was fine to drive on. And what a drive it was! It was absolutely beautiful! You could go as slowly as you liked and stop at various points to get out of the car, so we made the most of it and stopped at every possible point! The landscape was just beautiful and I had to keep checking that I wasn’t dreaming!
After exploring the valley floor for a few hours we headed back up and checked into our campsite. The View Campground is where we stayed and it was the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at! You could choose to pitch your tent wherever you liked on the sand, so we chose a spot on the banking overlooking the West and East Mitten Buttes. It was stunning! The only downside to this campsite was that sand got in your shoes and in your tent – it pretty much got everywhere! But I really didn’t mind that for one of the most beautiful camping spots in the world. Watching the sunset from our campsite was so beautiful, but there were quite a few other people out watching it too. The quietest time was the next morning when we woke at 5am, with not another person awake and the stars shining just for us. Seeing the milky way shining above the valley was an unforgettable experience!
The reason for us waking up so early was that we had a tour of Antelope Canyon booked for the next morning at 8am – a 2 hour drive from Monument Valley. Now, one thing about travelling all across America is that you will pass through various time zones. We had already passed through about 3 different zones but it was Arizona that confused us. Basically, there are certain parts of Arizona that don’t take part in Daylight Saving (when we turn the clocks forwards an hour) so we spent a long time the day before trying to work out what time it would be in Antelope Canyon. The time zones hadn’t affected us too much until now, but because we had a certain time that we needed to arrive for our tour, we needed to get it right. After finally deciding that setting off at 6am Utah time would get us to Arizona for 8am, we headed off on our way. After such careful planning, we arrived at the tour guide office to find it deserted and realised we’d calculated the time zones wrong after all – it was actually 7am, not 8am! At least we were an hour early and not too late!
After a long hour of hanging around in the sleepy town of Page, we finally began our tour. We were slightly disappointed to discover that you can’t explore Antelope Canyon by yourselves – it has to be with an official tour guide. We’re not really into big group tours and things like that but reluctantly we booked anyway as we really wanted to visit the canyon. We booked with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours and our group had Eugene as a guide. He was fantastic! After a short but very bumpy ride in the back of a jeep over the sand, we arrived at the mouth of Antelope Canyon along with a few other groups. Eugene let us hang back so the canyon wouldn’t be too crowded, and then he led us inside. The canyon is beautiful – it’s very small so not good for anyone with claustrophobia, but it’s so fascinating! We wandered through, with Eugene chatting to everyone individually and advising people where the best spots were for photos. Around every bed of the canyon was something even more beautiful to see – it was amazing to see how the wind has shaped the walls of the rock and eroded them away over the years. The colours were also fantastic, with sun rays shining down making the sand and the walls glow orange and red. After exploring the canyon for around an hour we headed back to Page to resume our road trip. We had a quick stop off at the Horseshoe Bend along the Colorado River, before moving on to our main destination for the day – the Grand Canyon.
Driving towards the Grand Canyon was amazing and we passed various viewpoints along the way with sneak peaks into the depths of the canyon. However, we moved straight on as we wanted to get set up at our campsite and then have the rest of the day to explore. We camped at Mather Campground which was lovely – we wish we had more than just one night there! The campsites were huge with picnic benches, fire pits, grills, and trees to provide privacy. Not to mention the massive wild elk wandering around and coming to say hello every now and then! We set up camp and then hopped on one of the free shuttle buses which took us all the way to Maricopa Point on the South Rim. We got off to have our first proper look at the canyon and it just took my breath away! You see photos of the Grand Canyon everywhere, and on TV and films, but nothing can quite do it justice like standing and seeing it with your own eyes. The size of the canyon is just unbelievable – it’s hard to get your head around it! After staring in amazement for a while we decided to hike up along part of the rim trail. We stopped off at Powell Point and Hopi Point, each viewpoint giving a slightly different perspective. We then got the bus up to The Abyss (another viewpoint) and hiked some more of the rim trail, before hopping back on the bus to the campsite. Before we could finally relax we made a quick dash in the car up to Mather Point – probably one of the most well known parts of the area. We arrived just in time to watch a spectacular sunset painting the rocks in all shades of red and orange, before finally heading back to rest our legs. That evening was spent around our campfire, toasting marshmallows and making s’mores in true American style.
The next morning was an early one as we headed back to Mather Point for sunrise – such a beautiful and tranquil place to watch the first light of the day hitting the canyon floor. We had quite a long drive ahead of us but we took our time leaving the park, exploring a few more viewpoints on the way out before finally saying goodbye and moving on. It was a shame that we didn’t have longer to explore other parts of the canyon, and we would have loved to do a hike down into the canyon itself but we enjoyed the short amount of time we did have, and I’m so glad we got to visit such a stunning place.
It's safe to say that the third week of our trip had been a jam packed one (you’ve probably realised this by the enormous blog post you’ve just read – congrats to anyone who’s made it to the end without falling asleep). Although we were technically over halfway through our adventure, we weren’t looking at it like that. We still had so much more to look forward to, and luckily the time wasn’t flying by too quickly. We’d been away for three weeks now but it felt like a year! So, our final week of adventures began with a trip to Vegas…
To be continued…